Wednesday, January 28, 2015

More College Application Follow-Up Suggestions

This article first appeared in on January 28, 2015.

If you are waiting until March to hear back from some of your top-choice schools, it can seem like a very long haul. Even though your application has been submitted, there are still positive actions you can take to stay top-of-mind and let the school know they are one of your top choices.
If you were deferred early decision or early action to the regular decision pool, hopefully you have sent your rep an email expressing your disappointment but noting that you are not discouraged and still want to attend. If he or she provided any reasons for the deferral and suggested what you might do to strengthen your application, be sure to actually follow the suggestions!
Whether you are deferred or waiting for a regular decision answer, in January or February it may be appropriate to follow up with schools that have not yet given you an admission decision. 
I cannot tell you exactly which schools want to hear from you and which don’t. Nearly every college would like your first semester senior year transcripts sent from your high school as soon as they are available. Beyond that, most small and medium private schools are open to receiving updates from you if they contain information of value. Most large state schools would prefer not to get additional information because they have too many applications to read and whatever you send creates extra work. Of course, these are generalizations, and you need to use your best judgment to decide which schools you want to send “love letters” to.
If you choose to do email follow-up, here is what a love letter should contain:
1. Any significant awards or achievements that happened since you submitted your application
2. A recap of your first semester grades
3. “If I were at your college this week, I would be taking advantage of the following opportunities…” (use the school calendar to figure out what is going on that you would enjoy)
4. Your full name and Common App or College ID # in the header
5. A simple statement about your desire to be at that school next fall.
Here’s an example of what a follow-up email might contain:
Dear George Washington University Admissions Office,
This past semester, I have been able to maintain all As except for my 88% in AP Calculus. It’s the lowest grade I have received in high school, yet I feel like I worked the hardest for it. I have the sense that college will be more like that than high school, and I welcome the challenge. 
It's been an exciting time since I submitted my application. I won 1st place in Public Forum Debate and 1st Place in Oratory at the Linfield College Forensics tournament.  I was crowned “Mr. Glencoe” for fundraising $2,400 for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and placing highest in the talent competition. (My group performed Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” rap.) Next week, I will be participating in the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. as a youth representative. I look forward to touring the Capitol, While House, and Smithsonian. 
This week at GW, there are so many events that I would attend if I lived closer! Last Thursday, I would have rushed to the Jack Morton Auditorium to be a part of the town hall gun control discussion with Anderson Cooper. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but to participate would enlighten me and hopefully give me a model for how to run future town halls of my own. On Saturday, I would take a break from studying for my Intro to International Affairs class and head to the Smith Center (only a 15-minute bus ride from the Vern) to watch the Colonials beat the Butler Bulldogs in basketball. As someone fascinated by comparative politics, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend the Comparative Politics Workshop with Todd Eisensdat and Jennifer Yelle on Saturday, February 15th. Wishing I was there already...
John Doe
Common App ID# XXXXXXX 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Standardized Test Prep

This article first appeared in on January 21, 2015.

Standardized test preparation is a big business. Many families have figured out that merit aid is often dependent on a student’s ACT or SAT score, so test prep can offer a good Return On Investment (ROI).
I am not a fan of standardized tests. Research has shown that high school grades are a much better indicator of success in college. However, most colleges still require students to submit either ACT or SAT scores as part of the application process. They do this because of grade inflation and the fact that high schools across the United States and internationally are so different, that they want a standard that is perceived as a level playing field. I won’t go into a tirade here about how these tests are unfair to many groups, including those of lower socio-economic status and first-generation college students. Regardless, since you probably will need to submit some standardized test scores, I want to help you make those the best they can be.
You only need to prep for either the SAT or ACT (not both), so I suggest you do a diagnostic exam and prep for the one you are naturally better at. Many test prep services offer a free diagnostic. You can also compare your preferences and scores on the ACT Plan (if your school gave this test) vs. the PSAT you probably took in fall of junior year. Nowadays, all colleges accept either test without preference. Since you will spend time and energy to study for the test you are already likely to score higher on, there is no point in doubling your effort by studying for both.
If you did some test prep this past summer (between sophomore and junior year), I applaud you for being proactive. It is great to commit time to test prep when you are not as busy with homework and extra-curricular activities. Juniors, if you didn’t prep this past summer, this is an excellent time to start. Ideally, you would like to finish your standardized testing in June of junior year.
Why not prep over the upcoming summer and take your standardized tests in fall of senior year? This is your back-up plan if you don’t like your spring test scores. Ideally, you can have a fairly solid college list by summer so that you can work on your applications over the summer when you have more time to focus on them. You can’t know whether your list of schools is realistic without your standardized test scores. Plan to finish your testing this spring. If you decide to retake in the fall, set your list based on the scores you have, since you can always add some more selective colleges should you score higher in the fall.
There are lots of available test prep resources. I like to categorize them as free, low-cost, classes and individual tutoring. Your family budget and learning style should help you determine what is best for you.

Free online test prep resources:

•    The official ACT site  
•    The official SAT site 
•    Varsity Tutors free practice tests
•    SAT prep from I Need a Pencil 
•    SAT and ACT prep from  
•    Build your SAT and ACT vocabulary and help distribute rice to alleviate world hunger with 
• delivers terrific ACT, SAT and SAT Subject Matter Test prep 
•    SAT math prep from Khan Academy 
•    Free SAT puzzles and tips from a quirky blogger 
•    Great SAT math and physics resources (free) from Erik the Red
•    Wonderful compilation of helpful SAT prep from Best College Reviews
•    Veritas Test Prep offers free test prep videos
Only students with sights set on highly selective schools need to take SAT 2 Subject tests. If you are one of those students, be sure to look now at the testing requirements of the schools you are considering. You will want to take two or three subject tests in May or June of junior year (whichever month you are not taking the ACT or SAT). If you are unhappy with your subject test scores, you can retake in September or October, but the material will be less fresh in your mind after a summer break unless you refresh it over the summer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pacific Northwest Scholarships

This article first appeared in on January 14, 2015.

A scholarship aggregator is a site or service that puts together lots of scholarships in one place. Both Oregon and Washington have scholarship aggregators which make it easy to apply for multiple scholarships with one application. Take advantage of the opportunity and apply.


Oregon scholarships are compiled by the Office of Student Access and Completion (OSAC). This government site is full of great resources. The OSAC scholarship application is for incoming freshmen and current college students. You can access the applicationhere. Over $18 million in scholarships are compiled here. Some are only good if you choose to attend college in Oregon, but many can be used by an Oregon student anywhere. There are scholarships available for use at four-year colleges, two-year colleges, and trade/tech training. It’s a relatively simple application with four short essay questions of approximately 150 words each:
1. Explain your career aspirations and your educational plan to meet these goals.
2. Describe a challenge or obstacle you faced in the last ten years. What did you learn about yourself from this experience?
3. Describe a personal accomplishment and the strengths and skills you used to achieve it.
4. Explain how you have helped your family or made your community a better place to live. Provide specific examples.
The most challenging part of the OSAC application is selecting the scholarships you want to be considered for. By filling out the application and submitting it by Feb 15, you are automatically considered for many scholarships, including any that are specific to your high school. In addition, you can select up to 20 other scholarships that are a good match for your talents and interests and add those to your submission list. Some scholarships have an extra, short essay required, so be sure to complete the full application as prompted. Don’t forget to upload or send your transcripts and standardized test scores to the OSAC. It tells you how to do so on the application.


Washington scholarships are compiled at the The site connects Washington students of all types with Washington scholarship providers, for free. Whether you’ll be attending college in-state or out, you save time by entering your profile once and letting them find potential scholarship opportunities. It takes about 45 minutes to fill out your profile. The essay portion asks the following:
  • A personal statement that shares your talents and gifts
  • Five words that describe you
  • Five skills you have
  • List your talents and gifts

In addition, you can upload any documents required by the scholarships you are matched with. Those could range from a photo collage to recommendation letters to transcripts or extra essays.
To maximize your scholarship consideration, plan to have these completed no later than February 15, 2015.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

6 Reasons Seniors and Their Parents Should Fill Out the FAFSA Now

This article first appeared in on January 7, 2015.

If you are a high school senior or the parent of a high school senior, you should work together to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Now. Here’s why:
1. It’s free. The FAFSA is a required document if you hope to get need-based aid from most colleges. You access it here. Be sure to use the .gov website and not the .com website, which charges you. 
2. Fill it out and submit it now because colleges run out of certain types of financial aid. It became available for the 2015–16 school year on January 1, 2015. By submitting it in January, you increase your odds of getting the best possible financial aid package.
3. You don’t need to have completed your 2014 tax return. You can fill out the FAFSA by indicating that you are using estimated tax data for 2014. Most people use their actual data from 2013 unless they had a huge shift in financial circumstances. Once you file your 2014 taxes, you can go back into the FAFSA and have it auto-update against your IRS filing.
4. You get your Student Aid Report (SAR), which contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), right away. Your EFC is the amount your family will be expected to contribute annually towards your college education if you attend a college that uses the federal formula for calculating aid. It doesn’t guarantee that the college will give you any set amount, but it does tell the college the amount the government calculates your family can afford. You may not like the number, but at least you will know what it is.
5. Some colleges will not consider a student for need-based aid in future years if the student did not fill out the FAFSA for freshman year. No one knows the future. Your family might not qualify for aid at this time, but life circumstances could change and you might qualify for aid in future years. Ensure eligibility by filling out a FAFSA now.
6. Some merit-based scholarships still ask for a FAFSA. I know this is illogical, since the FAFSA indicates financial need whereas merit scholarships are based on other criteria. Nonetheless, donors make all kinds of provisions when they fund scholarships, and many donors want to see FAFSA data, even if they just use it to understand the socio-economic breakout of their applicants. Keep your merit options open by filling out a FAFSA.
Now that you are convinced you should fill out the FAFSA, here’s what you should gather before you start, per the extremely helpful website
  • The student's driver's license and social security card.
  • The student's income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the previous year. If the student is married, you will also need the documents for the student's spouse.
  • The parents' income tax returns, W-2 forms, and 1099 forms for the previous year.
  • Current bank statements and mortgage information.
  • Records relating to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments.
  • Documentation of non-taxable income, such as Social Security income, AFDC, and Veterans Benefits.
  • Business and farm records.
  • Records relating to any unusual family financial circumstances, such as medical and dental expenses not covered by health insurance, tuition expenses at elementary or secondary schools, unusually high child care costs, death, divorce, and loss of employment.

Make a photocopy of each document and keep it in a file folder with a photocopy of the completed financial aid applications. You will find this helpful not only because applications are sometimes lost, but in case your application is selected for verification.
If your application is selected for verification, you will be required to provide the financial aid office with copies of all of the documents listed above. All schools verify at least 1/3 of the students, and some do 100% verification.
Extra tips:
When you list the schools the FAFSA should be sent to, put them in alphabetical order. Some colleges look at the order of your list to predict whether or not the school was one of your top choices. Eliminate that possibility by putting them alphabetically.
In addition to the FAFSA, about 400 private colleges also want the CSS Profile or an additional financial aid form of their own to be filled out. Check the requirements of every college you applied to and be sure to complete whatever the school requires. Try to get it all done and submitted in January!